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How-to: Stay secure online

Caroline Leopold, @caroline815
07.22.15
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With the recent hacking of adultery website Ashley Madison, we're reminded again of how precarious online privacy really is. For most, it is second nature to lock the front door or not announce private financial information at a party with strangers. Yet, many of us are sharing private information that can easily be intercepted if we are not careful.

Protect your privacy from those around you

Theft and loss of mobile phones, tablets and laptops can mean that someone can rifle through and even delete your files. Having a password on all your devices deters the thief or snoop. It's less burdensome and as important as using a key to unlock your front door.

Remember that at work, fully expect that all of your emails and internet browsing is being monitored. Incognito browsing may keep your history clear, but it's not a guarantee of privacy. The safest bet is to use your own device using your own internet connection.

Never give out passwords to anyone, ever

Scammers are adept at requesting your data in a way that escapes suspicion. For example, callers claiming to be Verizon asked customers for some innocuous information and then asked for their phone password. Then, the scammers used passwords to log thousands of dollars in long-distance calls to their victims' phone bills.

Legitimate companies will never ask for your passwords over the phone or email. In fact, companies would never access your account through your own password. They have admin privileges, so there's never a reason for them to ask.

Having password overload? Use a password manager

The rule to remember with passwords is they should be hard to guess, even with a computer trying to break in and passwords are supposed to be unique for every site. What is a strong password? Randall Munroe of popular webcomic XKCD offers a simple solution: string four random words together. Words are easier to remember and the number of guesses to crack the password is astronomical.

Password managers such as Lastpass, Keepass, 1Password and others, as described by Lifehacker, are remarkably easy to use. The premise is that the user picks and remembers one strong password. Then, the managers generate and store passwords for all of the other sites. There are a few minor glitches, where some sites, I'm looking at you Apple iTunes, make it difficult to use the password managers. But, the advantages are tremendous. Not only do you get good passwords, but entering them is as fast as a click of a button, without the mistakes.

A problem you may encounter is that you'll request a password reset and the admin sends you your password via email. This is a huge security problem because email is easily intercepted. If that happens, change your password to something completely unique. And if you have been using duplicate passwords, then change those passwords.

Use encrypted (secure) connections

One of the biggest security risks is when you are using an unsecured Wifi hotspot. Hackers can collect all of the data you sending, including private emails, credit card information and security information. Then, hackers take that information and masquerade as you, which can cause havoc to your bank account and compromises your identity. Security company Kaspersky recommends that users use HTTPS when browsing, turn off sharing on their computers, and for business users, consider investing in using a VPN, which encrypts your traffic.

Be aware that some companies don't understand security and may ask for sensitive information on an unencrypted (HTTP) network. If you see HTTP, change the prefix to HTTPS and see if the site still works. If the site doesn't work and you get an error, then you know this company doesn't know how to properly protect your information. It's best to walk away.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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